Do you want to better understand gymnastics scoring? Are you wondering how gymnastics judges decide on the score for each gymnastics routine? I am going to tell you the process gymnastics judges go through when coming up with a score.
If you have read the brief bio I put up on my About page, you will know that I used to judge gymnastics. I studied and took the gymnastics judging test with my mom when I turned 16, the youngest you are allowed to take the test. I was a judge for 10 years and did it almost every weekend when I was in college (it was good money for a college kid!).
In this article we will be talking about judging USA Gymnastics’s Junior Olympic program, the gymnastics levels 1-10, along with the Xcel Program. If you’re wondering how Elite gymnastics meets and the Olympics are scored, check out Olympic Gymnastics Scoring: The Basics.
I’ve created some gymnastics scoring cheat sheets with a simplified version of the information in this article.Click Here to Download
In order to become a judge you have to memorize the deductions, and the routine requirements. At the compulsory levels you need to have memorized the compulsory routines exactly as they are explained in the USA Gymnastics Women’s Compulsory Program Text. The Optional level’s routine requirements and deductions are laid out in the USA Gymnastics Women’s Junior Olympic Code of Points Text.
You also need to learn gymnastics judges’ shorthand, which is a bunch of symbols used to record a gymnast’s routine. Judges write down the symbols that correspond to the skills that the gymnast performed, along with notations for what deductions they are going to take. After a gymnast’s routine is complete, the judge goes back and evaluates the routine based on what they have recorded on their paper.
Since gymnastics judging can be somewhat subjective, given that there are humans applying deductions, the judge’s goal every meet is for the gymnasts to be fairly ranked.
Things a Gymnastics Judge Looks For in A Routine
There are several things a gymnastics judge looks at when evaluating a gymnastics routine.
Requirements: Does the gymnast have all the requirements?
The first thing a gymnastics judge looks at when evaluating a routine is whether the gymnast has all
the routine requirements. This will determine a gymnast’s start value. You can check out the level requirements here, or for compulsory levels they are the skills highlighted on the progression checklist.
Compulsory Routine Requirements
In compulsory routines, judges look to make sure all of the skills were performed in the order in which they are supposed to be performed. Here are some of the deductions a judge can take if a compulsory routine doesn’t have all the requirements:
- If a skill is omitted: subtract twice the value of the skill
- If a skill is reversed: subtract half the value of the skill
Optional Routine Requirements
In optional routines, judges look to make sure all of the requirements are fulfilled by skills the gymnast performed. For example, in Level 6 one of the Floor routine requirements is that a gymnast performs “1 salto or aerial element.” So the judge is going to look at their shorthand of the gymnast’s routine and make sure that they wrote down a skill that will fit that requirement, like a front tuck. A deduction is taken if a gymnast is missing one of these requirements:
- If a special requirement is missing: .5
In addition to the “special requirements” at each level, there are also value part requirements. For example, at Level 6, each Bar, Beam and Floor Routine must have 5 “A” value parts and 1 “B” value part. So the judge makes sure that in their shorthand the gymnast has enough skills to fulfill the value part requirements. Here are the deductions taken if a gymnast is lacking any of the required value parts:
- For an “A” value part: .1
- For a “B” value part: .3
- For a “C” value part: .5
In addition to the special requirements and value part requirements, Levels 9 and 10 need Bonus connections in order to start from a 10.
One other thing judges review their shorthand for that will affect the gymnast’s start value is whether the gymnast performed a skill that is not allowed at that level.
For example, Xcel Gold gymnasts are not allowed to perform “B” valued saltos or any “C” or higher level skill on Floor. If a gymnast performs a skill that is not allowed at their level, a deduction is taken from the start value.
In some cases, performing a skill that is not allowed can void the routine. For example, performing a vault that is not allowed at the level will void the vault — basically meaning the gymnast receives a score of 0.
Execution: How Well Did the Gymnast Perform the Skills?
The second thing gymnastics judges look at is the execution.
While they watched the routine, with their shorthand they write down the execution deductions for each skill.
Compulsory Routine Execution
Compulsory routines must be executed exactly like the text says in order for them to be performed flawlessly. Needless to say, it is very rare for this to happen. A skill will have execution deductions for not being performed perfectly. But also, the dance and transition movements can have execution deductions for not being performed exactly how the text describes. Here are some example execution deductions for a compulsory Bars, Beam or Floor routine (Vault has a separate set of deductions):
- Legs separated when they should be together: up to .2
- Balance errors: up to .3
- Bent arms or legs when they should be straight: up to .3
- Changing, reversing or omitting a small part of the routine: .1
As you can see from this small sample of execution deductions, a gymnastics judge uses their discretion to decide how much to take. You might be thinking to yourself, How does a judge know how much to take? Or Doesn’t this makes a score highly subjective?
Keep in mind that a gymnastics judge has seen thousands and thousands of routines, and after seeing that many routines you know every time you see a bent leg whether that is a .1 deduction bent leg, or a .3 deduction bent leg. Judges’ scores are required to be very close to each other (when there are multiple judges on a panel) or there is a discussion. This helps to keep the scores consistent.
Optional Routine Execution
In optional routines, the skills are evaluated for execution. For each skill, a gymnastics judge must ask the question:
Is this skill being executed perfectly according to the JO Code of Points? And if not, what execution deductions apply?
Here are some example execution deductions for optional routines:
- Leaps, jumps, hops not rising enough off the floor or beam, not enough height: up to .2
- Toes not pointed on a skill: .05
- Leg or knee separations: up to .2
As you can see from that tiny sample of execution deductions, they cover every aspect of a gymnastics skill. You can see small errors, such as not pointing your toes, can add up throughout the routine.
Overall Performance: Did this Gymnast’s Routine “Wow”?
After a gymnastics judge has determined a routine’s start value based on the requirements, and then taken deductions for execution, the judge looks at the overall routine and determines any other general deductions. A judge is keeping in mind the ranking of the gymnasts at the meet, and is also comparing the overall routine to other routines from the same level that the judge has seen.
Artistry & Dynamics
There are artistry and dynamics deductions that can be taken based on how the overall routine is performed. These are deductions that can be used to help better rank the gymnasts.
Starting at Level 8, routines have additional deductions that can be taken based on how the routine was composed. As an example, are all the hard skills at the beginning of the routine? As opposed to spread out throughout the routine?
One last thing a judge must consider before deciding the gymnast’s score is if there are any miscellaneous deductions that need to be taken. There are flat deductions for things like stepping out of bounds, being spotted during the routine, going overtime, not presenting to the judge, etc.
Once these four aspects are evaluated: requirements, execution, overall performance and miscellaneous deductions, a score is computed.
This is an overall look at scoring, but how does this apply to each event? Each event follows the same structure with its own set of unique considerations.
The first thing you need to know about scoring gymnastics vaults is that there are three phases to a vault, and deductions are applied at each phase. The three phases are the first flight phase (when the gymnast is in between the springboard and the vault table), the support and repulsion phase (when the gymnast is on the vault table) and the second flight phase. So if a gymnast has bent legs throughout the vault, the deduction is taken three times.
One of the most important things when evaluating a gymnast’s vault are the angles. A judge watches closely to see what angle she came on to the vault table, and what angle she exited. For example, when performing the compulsory Level 4/5 Handspring Vault, the gymnast must push off the vault table by the time she hits vertical or a deduction of up to 1 full point can be taken depending on the degree past vertical the gymnast leaves the table.
Dynamics is a bigger deduction on vault than on the other events. Vaults should be powerful, with good height.
Like on vault, one of the most important aspects of scoring bars is the angles of each of the skills. Every level has different requirements for the angle of the casts. The angle that handstands achieve and the angle out of circling elements is important at higher levels.
For example, in Level 7 on Bars one of the requirements is that the gymnast performs a cast a minimum of 45 degrees from vertical. So the judge is watching the angle of each of the casts the gymnast performs. In order to fulfill the requirements, the gymnast must do a cast to a minimum of 45 degrees from vertical on one of her first two casts. After the first two times a gymnast performs a skill it can’t be used to satisfy the requirement, but additional low casts will still incur deductions.
The rhythm of a bar routine is important. The skills should be performed in a row without extra casts, swings or stops.
- Extra cast or swing: .3
As you can imagine, one of the most important factors when evaluating a gymnast’s beam routine is her balance. Every balance error is a deduction. A balance error can be small (a tiny wobble) or large (making lots of big movements).
- Balance errors: up to .30
- Fall: .5
Height and Angle of Jumps and Leaps
Every jump and leap performed is evaluated for height off the beam. Split jumps and leaps are evaluated for what angle was achieved.
One of the most often asked questions by parents about beam scores is why did one gymnast get a better score than the other gymnast even though the gymnast with the better score fell off the beam and the other gymnast didn’t? As you can see, there are so many factors that go into scoring a beam routine, and a fall is just one deduction that can be taken.
Height and Angle of Jumps and Leaps
Just like on beam, the height of jumps and leaps are evaluated. Split jumps and leaps are assessed for what angle was achieved. If a jump or leap turns, the feet are watched closely for the degree of the turn.
Height and Form of Tumbling Skills
Tumbling passes are evaluated on a number of factors, some of which are the body position during the skills, the height of saltos and the landings.
As you can see, while the overall framework of coming up with a score is the same across gymnastic events, there are different points of emphasis.
Obviously, I can’t explain every deduction, or every factor that goes into determining a gymnastics score (the books that do explain are several hundred pages). But, I hope that this article has helped you to understand the process of gymnastics scoring. Now test your knowledge here — Can you pass this Gymnastics Scoring Quiz?